TELEVISION / Making it up on the hoof

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HOW MANY programmes on satanism do we need? There's been a steady trickle since Roger Cook's unforgivably exploitative report a couple of years ago, cutting across the airwaves from Panorama (Black Mass hysteria) to Channel 4 (listen to the 'victims'). Small wonder: the material reeks suspiciously of 'sexy TV'. Allegations of infanticide, cannibalism, mind control, bloody violence, child sexual abuse . . .

The opening moments of Anthony Thomas's Viewpoint: In Satan's Name (ITV) promised more of the same: intimate close-ups of weeping eyes, twisted mouths, gushed confessions. One woman had been forcibly impregnated by her father, who was dressed as the Devil. Another had given birth, killed her child and devoured it; a constant motif - Dr Jim Phillips would later claim that nearly all his female patients had seen babies sacrificed: 'They've seen over a thousand murders.' And so on.

Following in the hoofsteps of previous investigators, Thomas raised the expected questions and delivered the expected answers. Yes, Christian fundamentalists, detecting a global network dedicated to the Great Goat, had constructed a global network of their own to spread the Bad Word and liaise with social workers, psychologists and police. Yes, Satan was destroying families - all it took in the case of Bill and Becky Wallace was a phone-call from Becky's sister's therapist, saying that the couple planned to butcher their son Jesse: let your fingers do the wrecking.

Doug Riggs, a pastor from Oklahoma, used 'counselling' to convince his flock that they'd been violated by parents, friends and a travelling salesman called Uncle Bob, even though none of them could recall anything except love from their mothers and fathers. But they wouldn't, would they? As Riggs explained - when he could be dragged away from re-enacting almost verbatim scenes from The Exorcist - these sad souls suffered from a multiple personality disorder, a condition that conveniently buried painful 'memories' deeper than the last circle of hell. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

As an angry lawyer for the now- bankrupt Wallaces said: 'How can you respond to people who take that sort of thing seriously?' That view was echoed by the FBI's Ken Langley, who began investigating accusations of ritual satanic abuse with the inclination to believe. After looking into thousands of incidents, he has never found evidence or corroboration for a single case. Not that facts will convince the gullible. They know that the police, the government, the justice system, 10 per cent of the British population (roughly five and a half million people) and members of the Royal Family are fiendish followers of the Left-Hand Path. So whatever you do, don't leave little Bobby alone with the Queen Mother.

If Thomas had stuck to the instructively obvious, In Satan's Name might have been a welcome addition to earlier rebuttals. Unfortunately, the rigour with which he analysed how a fevered religious fantasy has infected the professional classes didn't extend to himself. A spokesman for the Church of Satan was photographed among de rigueur shadows. Organ music and chants hogged the sound-track, with eerie voice-overs: 'It was our first opportunity to learn about Satan from someone who claims a total commitment to him' - this of a deluded former child prostitute who had stabbed a woman 39 times while under the influence of drugs.

Why, the killer didn't even know that his Omen namesake, Damien, was actually the Son of the Master, and not a mere possessed innocent as his interviewer erroneously stated. Which just goes to show how easily misinformation, like superstition, can spread.